“If Art Is Seeing The Usual, Unusually,
Then Architecture Is Its Frame of Probability”
Department of Art and Architecture, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA. USA
In order for us to ‘see’ we frame. Framing crafts the world that surrounds us bringing it into focus. Frame here is synonymous to the word architecture if one were to view architecture as a verb and not a noun. It is other than creating a frame of reference for it does not need to be tied to its cause or any a priori convention. It merely pertains to a window in which you chose to halt and frame your view. The window carefully selects, reestablishing new connections. This can be achieved by constantly relocating the frame of probability to allow for intuitive leaps of invention. Bernard Cache states…architects design frames. He goes on to clarify this view on the frame of probability in the following statement from his book “Earth Moves”:
The frame reduces architecture to its most basic expression and allows us to formulate a concept that derives directly…on the notion of frame of probability. Dupreel criticized the classical scheme, remarking that no value has been attributed to the interval that separates the cause from the realization of its effect. For a cause to produce an effect, this interval must be filled. For in and of themselves the set of causes that produce an effect are only frames of probability. One never knows how the interval will be filled; otherwise, everything that is known about the interval would cross over to the side of the cause, and all one would have done is to define a more restricted frame of probability…if no indeterminacy remained in the interval, the cause would become identical to the effect and nothing new could happen at all…Architecture would be the art of introducing intervals in a territory in order to construct frames of probability. (1)
Recently I have been collaborating with Professor Gordon Bearn of the Philosophy Department at our University discussing the meaning of creativity as part of this years special focus of the Humanities Center, “Creativity; Raw and Cooked.” We have taught several seminars together in the past always circling around this topic. We continue to be amazed at the way we are both moving from our individualized point in the same direction. I call it freeing the material imagination, and although I am tired by the very thought of constructing a theory of the material imagination, I have a series of studio practices which accomplishes just that. Again and again. Bearn calls it breaking through to the other side of representation and although he can talk forever, his hands never get dirty. The ideas and thrust behind our continued dialogue and the design theories I will attempt to demonstrate in this paper are best encapsulated by Bearn as attempting “to get the author’s dirty hands and Bearn's dirty mind together.” Quoting from a new course description that Bearn and I are planning to teach called; “crafting creation” sets an appropriate premise this rest of this paper.
"How can you teach creativity?"
Its an old chestnut. Sometimes in awe, often not, teachers of art and music get it all the time. We presume that it is easy enough to teach someone about mitochondrial DNA. There are these facts or hypotheses and we simply tell others about them. But creation. That is something different. That requires the invention of something new, and at least since Plato's Meno, invention and discovery and creation have seemed difficult to explain. Where does it come from?
As long as we think experience is primarily passive, organized, when it is, by the nature of things, then creativity, invention, will either be an illusion (as it was for Plato) or it will have to come from outside the world. For some this can become a doctrine of genius or inspiration. Creation must attend the inspiration of genius. A godlike force that comes to us from outside the world. And so as God created the world, so a genie is the explanatory source of human creation. That is why they are always asking teachers of art and music how they can teach creativity. People figure that creation must come from outside the natural organized world, and what’s a teacher got to do with that?
But once we start thinking of experience as not primarily organized from without, by the nature of things, once we think of the organization of experience as, in large part, the result of categories and patterns of thinking that are human products, then it suddenly makes sense to think of creation as not coming from outside the human world, but from within. Then it makes sense to throw out all this waiting around for inspiration from above and get down to the work of crafting creation
The basic idea is that the world we navigate at roughly normal speeds and at normal distances presents itself in the familiar terms of our habitual representations. Think of this as a two dimensional graph along one axis is speed along the other is perceptual distance. Our comfortable middling existence occupies the middle of this graph. Slow it way down. Bring it right up to your eyes. Speed it way up. Look at it from across the valley. Then the sensuality of the familiar objects of the world overpowers their habitual representations. And moves. No longer an instance of a type. No longer even a being. A becoming. And crafting creation is becoming becoming. . (2)
The Novel Look
Creativity can occur in the act of rediscovering the world that surrounds us, by giving it a new look. This requires things to be in constant change for if they remain static they lose their ability to ignite the act of discovery. As stated in the above quote looking close up and seeing far away releases “familiar objects of the worldoverpowering their habitual representations.” If we only strive to immediately classify the new into pre-existing categories the known and understandable affixing appropriate names, we halt the ability to speculate, to imagine ‘what if’ and the object becomes static and one dimensional. As long as ones vision maintains a state of ambiguity or flux, the greater the potential for dynamic change, allowing for multiple programmatic readings of objects and situations. This allows the ‘novel reading’ to occur prompting a continual fresh look, suspending disbelief and sustaining rediscovery. This is evident in infants and young toddlers who have not acquired language yet. Their view of the world is in constant change depending on the way they frame the object in their view. For example, a baby bottle becomes long and cylindrical as well as short and round. It is at once hard (the bottle) and soft (the nibble). It changes its shape dependent upon the angle of view and is perceived differently at each position. It is in flux along with the rest of their world. This is because they are free to perceive through their haptic sense the multifarious realm of reality rather than to understand the one dimensional meaning of the object appropriated thru language and convention. For them it does not yet have a name it is allowed to remain fluid and in constant change. Once the word ‘bottle’ is put in its place it usurps the power of the dynamic image and consequently stills the imagination.
In my architectural design studios, I try to create this atmosphere of “the novel look”. Through the act of making and remaking I place the design process into a transformational sequence making what seems to be known into the unknown. I would like to describe a design studio that initiates this creative design process by framing the usual usually. It begins with design initiations that produce what in computer talk is called “a primitive.” This primitive shares the formal capacity to be interpreted and reinterpreted in a multifarious number of design situations. Throughout the studio the student is prevented from anticipating the end condition and is placed into a constant flow of transformational meanings. Ambiguity and impression mutually collude to set the premise the studio project; called ‘Shadow Casting’:Tracing Time To Measure Space
Drawing as the Shadow Play Active Mapping
With the drawing one is re‑enacting the process of the creative event by creating a map. "This map...exists in the interval between reality and those who order the experience of it." The drawing is the play; the play (as the drawing) becomes the map to represent our experience of reality. The map becomes the construction; the construction becomes the map. (3)
The Mapping Process
The images generated by shadow plays pull the past and future into an ever-present now by representing sequential frames of individual frozen moments into a single image. It involves a method of construction where the image is a result of a mechanism that creates a record of itself, a map. Its composition is not form driven, but is a result of the integration of space-time as an act of being. The mapping of the shadow records the interplay of the object casting shadows, and the reading of the shadow map re-presents, or recasts the object. The object is then built using the language of the shadow as the movement of the sun cast it. The map becomes the play -- the trace to represent the experience of that reality. It becomes the "schema of the map's generation -- that experience of reality is embedded in the map itself." (4) In order to establish a means of orientation, a coordinate system demarcating a north and south axis is introduced. This grid, similar to the latitude and longitude lines in a map, becomes an integral element of the object and not a system superimposed over its projection. Therefore, it is transformed, as is the object in the process of its construction. The grid itself becomes a slice in time only showing us a manifested form of that particular moment.
The tracing of the object's shadow as recorded at three intervals, morning, noon, and evening became the construction drawing of the object. The object itself underwent transformation as the design was informed by the shadows it cast. Thus, the object's integrity depended upon the truth of its own forming. The shadows acted as cosmological projections directing the process of construction. These traces of light, almost like X-rays, presented a latent image of what was to come. This construction of the shadow became a record of its own making, or a map. Thus, its composition was not form driven, but a result of the integration of space-time as an act of being, in the act of its own making. The significance of the object exists only in its role as the precipitator of its trace, or shadow field. The field of light itself becomes the determinant of the structure of space and time; it manifests itself only by its effects on the behavior of things within it.
At this point, the Design Studio became viewed as a laboratory to test the shadow techniques and practices as applied to the process of making meaningful architectural form. The context and program specifically set the stage for a particular type of design process to occur. First, in order to understand the ordering principles behind the context of a proposed site, the studio employed small analytical mass/form models. Two different sites and programs have been used with different students to implement this studio premise; one, a site at the intersection of a residential and small commercial grid in historic Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the other at the intersection of a pedestrian network in the middle of our own Lehigh campus. Both sites presented the programmatic information as a living organism with expanding, integrating and overlapping systems in time. Each student established a particular stance or point of view from which to proceed on the building site.
In order to keep the project in the realm of process not product, building was viewed as a verb, entailing a process of making those forces a continual 'decision making' activity upon the student demanding a strategy or technique that allows for "no constructing without construing and no construing without constructing." (5) Before the functional program was introduced an initiation to the site in time was enacted. It was to act as a metaphorical catalyst to decision making in the form of a building exercise called, "The Light Projecting Wall." Upon a site map that contained lines drawn from their individual mass models, each student determined their center of activity for the building. During three different times of the day (morning, afternoon, and evening) they were to construct a frame wall as a response to the shadows cast during its process of construction. It was important to allow the shadow to determine the nature of the construct. As they built, traces of the moving shadows were documented in fifteen-minute intervals, leaving a palimpsest of past and present time that would initiate a new space defining order for the future. The model acted as a mechanism that created a record of its own making in the process of its own construction. This exercise acted as an initiation rite consecrating the individual's place within a specific context yet simultaneously within a continuum of that which had come before. Now with this resulting shadow map of superimposed time, each student has established another order or field from which to find his or her individual architectonic expression as a response to light.
A series of models were then extrapolated from the shadow maps. The form making decisions made in the process of appropriating the new building program were driven by the shadow maps and their manifestations in these models. As form begot form the building seemed to present itself. The shadow maps acted as a temporary scaffolding for the final building form.
Architecture, as place making, began as a result of the resolution and articulation of the internal programmatic demands, in the broadest sense, and the external site conditions. In this studio the understanding of how to analyze the context in which a building sits went far beyond a sentimental longing for literal connections and well beyond an 'illustrative' approach. We searched to 'see' concepts and ordering principles that lie behind mere appearances and then overlay a new order derived from the process of light projection.
“The Pavilion of Light” on the Lehigh Campus
Information and knowledge come from a variety of sources and gain significance when distinguishable patterns are recognized. Therefore, design research could be characterized by making connections between disparate pieces of information in the search for knowledge. Design would then be seen as evolving from greater understanding yet in the art of seeing the usual, unusually; understanding can act as an impediment for continued discovery and re-discovery. When one understands, the need to discover is diminished because the world becomes known. This knowledge unless placed into a realm of ambiguity can only articulate what is, rather than what could be. I believe when one creates a space of suspended realization the usual becomes unusual and propels the world of creativity into action.
NOTES: 1.Cache, Bernard; EARTH MOVES, pp. 21, 22
2.Crafting Creativity, Interdisciplinary Course Description, Philosophy and Architecture, Professor Bearn and the author
3. Bloomer, Jennifer, "Interval," Art Papers, July/August 1987.